When it comes to fitness movements, November Project is in a league of its own. The completely free workouts are characterized as “adult recess.” You show up ready to tackle whatever they throw at you — a run, strength work, stairs and all other types of group fitness activities. Quite simply, there’s nothing else like it, which is likely why it has gained an enormous following over the past few years.
November Project’s unconventional ethos stems from its unconventional beginnings. Founded in 2011 in Boston by friends Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric, it began merely as a means to remain accountable to a regular fitness routine. The pair started in November, meeting in the early hours of each weekday to work out together. But it wasn’t until the two started posting on Twitter, inviting anyone and everyone to join, that November Project really started to take off. After an overwhelming response, they knew they had started something special.
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Today, November Project boasts 29 chapters across the United States and Canada. The so-called “tribes” generally meet twice per week in various locations, to do workouts led by enthusiastic volunteers. November Project devotees consider each session to be not just a workout to check off their to-do list but a time to connect with community. To be sure, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill drop-in studio class, but rather, it’s a dedicated group of people who support, motivate and encourage one another.
While there’s much to be said about November Project’s success — including a book about the phenomenon — there are three main components to its structure that contribute to its success. In addition to providing diverse workouts, November Project artfully weaves in qualities of community and accountability. These are the things that attract fitness buffs in the first place — and keeps them coming back week after week.
Research has shown that injecting variety in the types of workouts you do can help encourage adherence to an exercise routine over time. What’s more, other studies suggest that mixing up training also increases a person’s enjoyment while working out. Anecdotally, it makes sense that you may be more likely to stick with a workout program when you aren’t faced with the same boring training session day after day.
Variety is an important element of November Project’s approach to fitness. The fact that they describe themselves as “adult recess” says it all. Running, jumping, lifting, pushing and pulling are all on the docket of potential activities. When conducted by enthusiastic leaders, it’s no wonder these workouts are so infectious.
Co-founder Graham says that it’s all about getting people out of their comfort zones in a safe space — not just in terms of the workouts themselves but also the social aspect.
“We force moments between strangers and athletes who wouldn’t otherwise know one another,” he says. “We think that if we can get people to open their minds, try new things and be kind to strangers, November Project will have the ability to change the chemistry of the city that we live in.”
Social support is often cited as an important factor in getting people to participate in exercise in the first place — as well as getting them to return for more. Indeed, social cohesion in the group exercise setting has been shown to be a powerful motivator for training, whether it’s an adult spin class or a high school sports team.
This, says Graham, is a vital part of what has made November Project so successful. When you show up to a workout, you’re fully embraced by your training comrades. People make an effort to learn names, and they notice when you skip a session. It isn’t just a fitness class; rather, it’s a social club that works out together.
“From fastest to slowest, we give a full experience that can be shared by all fitness levels,” says Graham. “This isn’t an easy task, but when we pull it off, we create something rare. Community is an overused word, but if you come to November Project, you’ll see firsthand a pretty darn good example of what community looks like.”
While science confirms that most forms of “shaming” don’t work to motivate people to lose weight or exercise, November Project takes a unique approach to good-hearted ribbing that seems to be effective in getting people out of bed and to their workouts. It’s not shaming exactly but more like peer pressure to ensure accountability.
“The vibe inside our groups, or ‘tribes,’ has the right blend of push and pull,” Graham explains. “The push comes when you need to be pushed out of bed, or even further back, pushed to set an alarm the night before.We try and create enough amazingness online and through social media that people are excited and pushed into joining. The push can sometimes involve the We Missed You page that keeps our members from breaking their word.”
Basically, if you say you’re going to be at a workout and choose to sleep in instead, your November Project peers have a place — the “We Missed You” page — to post funny pictures of you and give you a hard time.
“Say you’re going to be there and don’t show,” says Graham. “The friend who you broke your word to could have you put on the wall. When your alarm goes off, the We Missed You page may be that last layer of accountability that keeps you on your way to November Project and away from that warm bed.”
In the end, it’s likely more about the upbeat atmosphere and camaraderie that gets November Project loyalists out of bed to a workout, rather than the fear of online ragging.
“The November Project love and community vibe are felt whether you’re a core member or you’re on your first day,” he says. “The pull is in the community. The push to get you up the steps comes with a passionate ‘You can do it!’ and the pull to come back lives in the hugs, the bounce, the chant and the many pieces that make November Project hard to explain when you get to work in the morning flying high.”